Turn insights into action: E-commerce trends for your small business

5 minute read

To call the shifts in consumer behaviour over the last year ‘game-changing’ is to underestimate the magnitude of those changes. Virtually every small business has been impacted, some more than others.

In a recent survey1 commissioned by Canada Post, 48 per cent of online Canadians said they are shopping more online than they were previously. But that’s not all that surprising. 93 per cent expect to maintain or increase their online spending in the coming months.

Will these consumers go back to their ‘normal’ shopping habits when the pandemic restrictions ease up? No one can say for sure, but it’s reasonable to assume that a big chunk of these consumers will continue to shop online. The message for small business is clear: future success lives partially or perhaps entirely online.

The Canadian e-commerce trends you need to pay attention to

Keeping up with the latest trends in e-commerce and consumer shopping habits is critical to not only surviving but thriving in the future. Canada Post invests in consumer and industry research to help empower your decision-making. This article features some of the most revealing insights from our recent research study.

Consumers are thinking small and acting local

Do you know the expression, ‘you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry’? It describes what many Canadians are feeling about the small businesses in their communities. The pandemic has reminded them of the importance of these businesses and their numerous contributions to our economy and to the fabric of local communities.

We saw that in our survey, in which half of those surveyed want to support small businesses in their neighbourhood, and 47 per cent say they try to buy from Canadian businesses.

View our tips to learn more about transitioning your small business to the e-commerce space.

Read our blog

Supporting local: What it means for your business

Small businesses are getting more attention, respect and love than they have for decades. As a small business, you need to remind customers of your important role in their lives. Here are some ideas to help you connect with consumers trying to support small and local businesses:

  • When advertising, remind consumers about the advantages of shopping local.
  • If you’re not doing it already, offer local customers pickup (curbside or in-store if permitted), and highlight the fact that they won’t have to wait for delivery.
  • Don’t be shy with the Canadian flag – proudly showcase it on every marketing channel you use, including your home page, flyers, community newspaper, etc.
  • Community outreach – small businesses have supported local sports teams and hobbyist groups for decades. During the pandemic, they’re also partnering with shelters and food banks to help local residents in need.

The shipping and delivery experience matters: Making the end-to-end customer experience frictionless

Shipping is considered the last ‘step’ in delivering products to customers. But it shouldn’t be the last thing on your mind. Shipping – and your shipping pricing and policy – warrants serious consideration.

Here’s the thing. If your delivery experience falls short of their expectations, your reputation may get dinged. In fact, many customers will reach out to the online seller about issues before they contact the delivery company.

The best way of thinking about shipping is that it’s an extension of your brand. Make sure it reflects – and responds to – consumer needs.

Free shipping continues to be a big draw for online shoppers, with 84 per cent of those surveyed saying they’ll shop more with retailers who offer it.

Free shipping may be a tall order for some small businesses, but consider these alternatives:

  • Offer it on a minimum cart amount to increase the likelihood of that spend (“Free shipping on purchases of $50 or more”).
  • Build it into a time-limited promotion, or offer it during specific times of the year.
  • Apply geographic limits – for instance, free shipping only applies to deliveries within the neighbourhood or city.
  • Make it exclusive for your best, most-profitable customers.

Free shipping: What it means for your business

To keep customers happy, consider making qualifying for free shipping as easy and attainable as possible. If free shipping just isn’t financially feasible for your small business, you can always offer the next best thing: flat rate shipping, which consumers like because it’s transparent and easy to understand.

Customers care about your returns process

Returns increased 9 per cent in 2020, with 46 per cent of shoppers saying they completed a return last year.

Retailers new to online selling are often surprised by the number of returns they receive. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the quality of your product or service. It’s an industry-wide challenge – one that some businesses are turning into a competitive advantage.

In our survey, 76 per cent claim to shop more often with retailers who provide free returns; whereas, 80 per cent of them say they won’t shop at a retailer again after a bad returns experience.

Returns: What it means for your business

Returns is an area of opportunity because your customers want to feel confident about shopping with your business – especially if they’re buying from you for the first time. Here’s some food for thought:

  • Offer a returns policy that gives the basics upfront: returns timeline, costs if applicable, whether you provide a return label with the shipment or on-demand via email.
  • Consider label accessibility – labels on-demand will require your customer to print the labels themselves or incur a nominal cost to have one printed elsewhere. It’s a bit of a hassle for consumers – are you comfortable with this being their customer experience?
  • E-commerce enables you to sell to consumers near and far. Can you afford to incur the costs of free returns shipping for a customer halfway around the world? Will they accept these fees? Clarity upfront will help you avoid disappointment later on.

Safe and secure shipping is essential

As online shopping has increased, so have concerns about package safety and security among consumers. Did you know that 73 per cent will shop more often with retailers that ensure their packages are secure when they are not home to receive them?

Safety and security: What it means for your business

Consumers are looking for assurance from online retailers. At Canada Post, we’re working hard to deliver on their growing needs for peace of mind post-purchase. We currently offer you and your customers:

  • The security of delivery through community mailboxes and apartment or condo boxes.
  • Customized delivery preferences that can be set through our tracking platform.
  • Options to leave instructions for delivery at the checkout phase (e.g., “Ring buzzer #2, leave at back door”).
  • Undelivered packages are forwarded to a secure depot or post office if there’s no one home.

Many of the old rules of retail still apply

There’s much to consider when transitioning to online retail or taking a more omni-channel approach to your business. At the same time, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed from the ‘traditional’ retail model. Consumers love quality products. They want to deal with a reputable business. They appreciate customer service that is courteous and responsive. And they like having options, whether in choice of goods or in delivery methods. Let these guide you as you plan your future online and you’ll always be in a good place.

1 Canada Post. 2020 Fall Survey, 20-2014, October 2020.

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